With an ace up his sleeve, Coach Ty Tabor went with his gut and shoved all-in like a riverboat gambler betting that senior Tanner Ford could make the game-winner, and he was right as No. 3 Graford beat No. 18 Ector 59-57 at the buzzer in Krum Monday night.
With 51 seconds remaining in play, Graford found itself trailing for the seventh time in the game 55-54, and Micah Manley nailed his fifth three-pointer of the second half for a 57-55 advantage only to have Ector tie the contest back up with 33 seconds to go.
“You probably couldn’t tell it, but we had a quick coach’s debate about whether or not to call a timeout,” Tabor said, “My assistants were saying call timeout, and I elected to go with it.”
Both teams had fouls to burn, and Ector ripped off four in a desperate attempt to get possession. As time ticked away, the ball ended up in the hand of Ford, who drove the ball to the right side of the basket and into Graford basketball lore when he buried his shot with two defenders in his face.
“Tanner Ford has spent countless hours in the gym, and I will take his 12-foot jump shot to win a game any day of the week,” Tabor said.
Early on, it didn’t appear the Jackrabbits would need any last-second highlights even though Graford did have some problems making outside shots. Xavier Harrison’s eight-point spearheaded Grafords first-quarter scoring while Marc Matthews, Manley, and Cody Lemley added buckets of their own.
With 1:56 remaining in the first stanza, Graford was up 11-2 before hitting a lull in their offense and letting Ector pull closer at 13-8 heading into the second quarter.
The Eagles continued to hit on all cylinders and swung the momentum in the opposite direction going on a 6-0 run to take the lead 16-15.
The lead change woke up the Jackrabbits who pounded the inside with Harrison and Matthews, and they combined for 15 of Graford’s 19 second-quarter points. By halftime, Graford had reestablished a 32-24 lead, but things were not on target for the Jackrabbits.
“We forced the ball a little too much from the outside because we did so well in our last game hitting 13 three-pointers,” Tabor said. “We came in, expecting to do that again.”
With Graford having problems sinking their downtown shots, Ector elected to slow down the game with a stall and to collapse into a double-team defense to deny Harrison a way to the basket.
The move worked as Ector surged with a 20-8 third quarter; however, Manley had begun to dial in his three-point range with a couple of baskets, and he would add three more in the final quarter.
Trailing 44-40 and still facing Ector’s stalling game, the Jackrabbits didn’t panic as Manley kept draining his shots and twice gave Graford the lead back with less than two minutes to play.
The entire gym was on edge with when Ector tied the game at 57-57 with 33 seconds remaining, and as the Eagles burned through their disposable fouls, the excitement grew to a fever pitch.
All eyes were on Ford as he came down the court with a pair of Eagle defenders desperate to stop him. Denied a seam into the paint, Ford faded slightly to the outside, which gave him the room to take his shot.
Just like after practice back at home in Graford, the ball took a few rotations in the air and almost seemed to hang for second before falling home and sending the Rabbits’ fans into a frenzy of celebration.
Did he feel the pressure as he came down the court?
“I have worked on that kind of shot every day after school for hours,” Ford said. “I didn’t get many opportunities during the game, but I made the one that counts.”
Harrison finished with a game-high 22 points, and Manley notched 17, Marc Mathews had nine, Ford scored six, and Lemley netted five.
The win sets up a highly anticipated matchup against the Jackrabbits’ regional rival, Lipan. The Indians beat Cherokee 86-43 to advance to the regional semifinals, which will be held Friday at 7 p.m. at Mansfield Legacy High School.